The Lake Stevens High School football team is one win away from a return trip to the Class 4A state championship game.
To get there, the Vikings have to go through the program that crushed their title dreams a year ago.
No. 2 seed Lake Stevens hosts No. 6 seed Graham-Kapowsin in a 4A state semifinal Saturday that serves as a rematch of last year’s state championship game, which saw the Eagles steamroll the Vikings 44-7 to complete one of the most dominant seasons in state history.
“We’re just trying to go win a state championship,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “And we’re just fortunate enough that we end up getting to cross paths with the team that beat us last year.
“Our kids have been talking about it,” he added. “They’re looking forward to the opportunity to go out and try to go get a ‘W’ and just show them that, hey, this is our year.”
Last year, the Vikings were simply the final victim in Graham-Kapowsin’s overpowering run to the state crown. The star-studded Eagles outscored in-state opponents by 41.1 points per game, including a 176-39 margin in their four state playoff contests.
Following the state title, Graham-Kapowsin then traveled to Las Vegas and punctuated its perfect season with a thrilling last-second win over Georgia 7A state champion Collins Hill as part of the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series.
The Eagles are a different team this year, having graduated 16 starters from their state championship squad. But once again, they’ve proved to be among the state’s best.
“The more I watch them, the more they look awfully familiar to what they were last year,” Tri said. “… They’re firing on all cylinders right now.”
This will mark the fifth time in the past seven state playoffs that Lake Stevens (10-2) and Graham-Kapowsin (10-2) have squared off against each other.
In addition to last year’s state title game, they met in the 2018 state quarterfinals, the 2017 first round and the 2015 state quarterfinals. They’ve split their four state playoff encounters.
“They’re our de facto rival now,” Tri said. “Even though they’re several hours away, it seems like every year we find a way to match up with Graham-Kapowsin.
“We know them and they know us. There’s a lot of familiarity there and a lot of mutual respect. … We know that if we want to go play for a state championship, oftentimes it’s gonna go through Graham-Kapowsin.”
Last year, the Eagles broke through for their program’s first-ever state championship.
After coming close several times in recent years, the Vikings are looking to follow suit and capture their first-ever state crown.
“Ultimately after what happened last year, we talked about trying to get back and winning it this year,” Tri said. “And we’re down to two games left now.”
Here’s a preview of the matchup:
No. 2 LAKE STEVENS vs. No. 6 GRAHAM-KAPOWSIN
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Lake Stevens H.S.
Radio: KRKO 1380 AM
Implications: The winner advances to face either No. 4 seed Kennedy Catholic or No. 8 seed Emerald Ridge in the 4A state championship game next Saturday night at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
RECENT MATCHUP HISTORY
This is the fifth time in the past seven postseasons that these teams have met in the 4A state playoffs. Here’s a look at the previous four matchups between them:
2021 4A state championship game: Graham-Kapowsin 44, Lake Stevens 7. With its massive and highly touted linemen controlling the game on both sides, Graham-Kapowsin steamrolled the Vikings to complete its dominant run to the state title. The Eagles piled up a whopping 563-131 advantage in total yardage and set a 4A state championship game record with 524 rushing yards. Lake Stevens was playing without injured standout senior quarterback Grayson Murren.
2018 4A state quarterfinal: Lake Stevens 45, Graham-Kapowsin 28. Lake Stevens pulled away in the second half to continue its march to the state title game. Star running back Dallas Landeros rushed for 241 yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback Tre Long threw for 230 yards and three scores. The Vikings’ defense did the rest, holding current University of Washington quarterback Dylan Morris and the Eagles to just 14 points until late in the fourth quarter.
2017 4A state first round: Graham-Kapowsin 38, Lake Stevens 31. Long threw for 449 yards and two TDs in just his second career varsity start and helped Lake Stevens slice a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to seven. But the Vikings were ultimately undone by four turnovers, and their late rally fell short against Morris and the Eagles.
2015 4A state quarterfinal: Lake Stevens 49, Graham-Kapowsin 14. Current NFL quarterback Jacob Eason threw for 252 yards and four TDs, star running back Andrew Grimes rushed for 290 yards and three TDs, and the Vikings cruised into the state semifinals.
Record: 10-2 overall, 4-0 Wesco 4A
Regular season: lost to Garfield 26-16, beat Bellevue 37-28, beat Federal Way 63-21, lost to West Linn (Ore.) 45-6, beat Jackson via forfeit, beat Eastlake 41-16, beat Mariner 48-0, beat Kamiak 56-10, beat Glacier Peak 57-17
Playoff path: beat Bethel 63-0 in winner-to-state round, beat No. 15 North Creek 42-27 in state first round, beat No. 10 Gonzaga Prep 42-17 in state quarterfinals
State history: Lake Stevens is making its ninth state semifinal appearance, including its third in the past four postseasons and its fourth in the past seven. With a victory, the Vikings would reach their third state championship game in the past four postseasons and their fifth in program history. Lake Stevens advanced to the 2021 and 2018 4A state title games and the 1994 and 1985 3A state title games, finishing as the state runner-up all four times. The Vikings are seeking their first official state crown. They claim a pair of unofficial state titles in 1966 and 1951, prior to the creation of the state playoffs.
Season recap: It was an up-and-down start for Lake Stevens, which challenged itself with the toughest non-league slate in coach Tom Tri’s 18 seasons at the helm. The Vikings opened with a mistake-filled 26-16 loss to talent-laden Garfield, but bounced right back with an impressive 37-28 win over defending 3A state champion Bellevue and a 63-21 rout of 4A state qualifier Federal Way. Lake Stevens had another setback in Week 4, when it traveled to the Portland area and suffered a 45-6 defeat to Oregon powerhouse West Linn. But the Vikings have been their usual dominant selves ever since, rattling off eight straight victories by an average margin of 37.4 points. They routed 4A state qualifier Eastlake 41-16 in Week 6. They cruised through Wesco 4A for their ninth consecutive league title, capped by an emphatic 57-17 blowout of then-4A-top-ranked Glacier Peak. They opened postseason play with a 63-0 thrashing of Bethel. They pulled away and built a 28-point fourth-quarter lead in a 42-27 first-round state win over North Creek. And they rolled past Gonzaga Prep 42-17 last week, beating the Bullpups in the state quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
Offense: Four-star Notre Dame-bound senior running back Jayden Limar leads a high-powered spread attack that averages more than 40 points per game. Limar has rushed for 1,644 yards and 30 TDs at a whopping 9.2 yards per carry, while adding 322 yards receiving and four TD catches. Over the past two weeks, the ultra-talented back has piled up 532 total yards and nine TDs in state playoff wins over North Creek and Gonzaga Prep. At quarterback, sophomore Kolton Matson has completed 71% of his passes for 1,378 yards, 15 TDs and six interceptions. He’s been particularly efficient as of late, throwing 12 TD passes and one interception over the past seven games. Versatile sophomore receiver Cassidy Bolong-Banks has 412 yards receiving and five TD catches, along with 312 yards and three scores on the ground as a fly-sweep weapon. Junior tight end Cole Becker has a team-high 456 yards receiving and six TD catches, while senior wideout Isaac Redford has added 398 yards receiving and four TD catches.
Defense: Lake Stevens has been equally strong on defense. The Vikings allow just 18.8 points and 295 total yards per game and have held all of their in-state opponents to 28 points or fewer. And over the past seven weeks, they’ve allowed an average of just 9.3 points through the first three quarters of their contests. Lake Stevens’ defense has totaled 17 interceptions and 16 sacks, while holding opposing passers to a 54% completion rate and opposing rushing attacks to 4.6 yards per carry. Redford anchors the secondary with a team-high seven interceptions as a lockdown cornerback. Junior linebacker Mason Turner is a tackling machine in the middle of the defense. And up front, senior Ashten Hendrickson has a team-high 3.5 sacks and Becker leads the team in tackles for loss.
Record: 10-2 overall, 7-2 South Puget Sound League 4A
Regular season: beat Rogers-Puyallup 56-0, lost to Puyallup 30-13, beat Olympia 28-17, beat Bellarmine Prep 23-0, lost to Sumner 34-31, beat Curtis 24-19, beat South Kitsap 28-0, beat Emerald Ridge 35-25, beat Bethel 34-14
Playoff path: beat Mount Si 35-14 in winner-to-state round, beat No. 11 Skyview 42-28 in state first round, beat No. 3 Sumner 28-21 in state quarterfinals
State history: After a string of four state quarterfinal trips in five seasons, Graham-Kapowsin broke through last year for its first-ever state title. The defending champions are now back in the state semifinals for a second consecutive season and the third time in their program’s 18-year history.
Season recap: Graham-Kapowsin graduated a slew of Division I-bound college talent from last year’s state championship team and bid farewell to longtime head coach Eric Kurle, who stepped down this past offseason after being at the helm for the entirety of the program’s history. Despite the changes, the Eagles are back in the state semifinals under first-year head coach Jeff Logan, who was promoted from offensive coordinator. G-K got off to a 3-2 start with a pair of league losses, falling 30-13 to Puyallup and 34-31 to Sumner. But since then, the Eagles have won seven straight games. G-K won each of its final four league contests — including a 35-25 victory over fellow 4A state semifinalist Emerald Ridge — to finish second behind Sumner in the tough South Puget Sound League 4A. The Eagles then dispatched Mount Si 35-14 in the winner-to-state round and Skyview 42-28 in their state opener. And last week, G-K got revenge with a 28-21 state quarterfinal win over league rival Sumner. Junior quarterback Daveon Superales lifted G-K to victory, running for a game-winning 27-yard score in the final minutes.
Offense: The Eagles graduated all five starting offensive linemen — including 6-foot-4, 320-pound Penn State-bound Vega Ioane — from the dominant unit that anchored last year’s state championship team. Also gone are Fresno State-bound quarterback Joshua Wood, Florida-bound tight end Andrew Savaiinaea, Idaho State-bound receiver Julian Mason and leading rusher Zack Lee. But with a mostly new crop of starters, this year’s group has risen to the occasion. G-K averages 31.4 points per game and is effective both with run-heavy sets and pass-oriented spread formations. Superales has emerged as a standout quarterback, completing 71% of his passes for 2,142 yards, 20 TDs and just three interceptions. He’s also run for 305 yards and four TDs, including the game-winner last week. His top targets are junior Jabez Woods and sophomore Khris Norris. Woods has a team-high 853 yards receiving and 10 TD catches, while Norris has 556 yards receiving and three TDs. On the ground, the Eagles average 5.2 yards per carry with a versatile rushing attack that includes 220-pound senior running back Jalen Davenport, the dual-threat Superales and 245-pound senior fullback Michael Toa.
Defense: G-K allows just 16.8 points per game and has held all but two of its opponents to 28 points or fewer. The Eagles have totaled 24 sacks and 59 tackles for loss, along with 10 interceptions and seven forced fumbles. Their defense came up big last week, limiting Sumner running back Matthew Spurbeck to just 87 yards on 23 carries after he ran for 279 yards in their regular-season matchup. Along the defensive line, junior Levi Turner and seniors Jacob Bowen, Nyzaiah Atinsola and Toa have combined for 14 sacks and 29 tackles for loss. Davenport, a standout linebacker, has posted four sacks and five tackles for loss since a midseason return from injury. Senior safety Ethan Pletcher has added four sacks and seven tackles for loss. And senior defensive backs Vinicio Hansen, Demitrius Taape and Caden Smith each have multiple interceptions.
Lake Stevens 38, Graham-Kapowsin 21
— Cameron Van Til, Herald writer
Lake Stevens 35, Graham-Kapowsin 20
— Zac Hereth, Herald writer
Lake Stevens 41, Graham-Kapowsin 27
— Chad Davis, Herald sports editor
Lake Stevens 35, Graham-Kapowsin 31
— Steve Willits, Prep Sports Weekly co-host
Lake Stevens 31, Graham-Kapowsin 17
— Tom Lafferty, KRKO Radio